Living in Incongruity
- Where are you acting incongruently with what you believe or espouse?
- What does it produce in you to declare publicly that you are incongruent?
- What happens in you when you own your system of incongruence ?
I had poignant moments during the CTI Summit last year at Marco Island. We were seeing powerful video of the collapse of the earth’s biological systems, having difficult conversations about the state of the planet, and feeling it all very deeply. Like others, I was aware of the irony of coming to this high-end venue, with its enormous ecological footprint, to explore actions that we can take to address the crisis.
Unlike others, I spent years leading groups on 100 mile canoe trips through the extraordinary wilderness that extends south, and which previously included the overdeveloped island on which our luxury high-rise resort sat. Walker and I spent our honeymoon paddling the Everglades, and I’ve done solo canoe trips through the vast estuaries and mangrove mazes of the Ten Thousand Islands.
I’ve seen flocks of white pelicans with ten foot wingspans, pink in the rising sun, gliding noiselessly 15 feet above our heads. Exulted at dolphins playing in our canoe’s bow wave. Swum in warm seas, a full moon overhead, watching phosphorescent green swirls sparkling off into the night from the movements of my arms. Watched alligators as we waited for the tide to turn so we could ride the ebbing waters through mangrove-lined tunnels to the Gulf. This miraculous world was what our hotel replaced.
The stark juxtaposition of the modern/materialistic/consumer world, co-existing side-by-side with the primeval wilderness of the Everglades, reflects the incongruity in which we all live. I am aware of my participation in this, my financial resources supporting a hotel that supplanted a wilderness that I deeply love.
We are all living on borrowed time. And, in spite of our growing awareness, most of us still contribute to our collective hurtling towards the brink.
While I consider myself progressive and ethical, it doesn’t take close inspection to reveal incongruities. Listen to the voices in my head: “Our businesses give 10% of pre-tax profits to social, environmental, and spiritual causes. ” “And, you own shares of companies that engage in egregious environmental and social practices. ” “We have been carbon-neutral for several years. ” “And, you installed two new air-conditioning systems last year. ” “Well, that was offset by the solar panels we put on the roof! ” “Yes, and you flew to Africa and went on safari. ” “Well, that was OK because I was going there anyway for work that benefited people and ultimately the planet. ” “Yes, but your wife and friends and father who joined you were just on vacation. ” “Yes, but we made donations to offset the carbon.“ Etc., etc.
The truth is, we all live in incongruity. Any of us can look and find examples. (“I love my husband. And, I was really snitty last night to him.” “I take my shopping bags with me to the store. And, I drove six miles to the store and back, using sufficient fossil fuel to manufacture a hundred shopping bags, to get birthday candles for my kid’s cake!” “I know I need to delegate this project to a staff member; but really I’ll do it better and faster.” When we begin to look, they are everywhere. We can’t avoid them, at least not completely.
So, what happens when we face our incongruities? When we witness not just one side or the other, but the intersection of them? The “system of competing commitments” that our incongruities reveal?
And then, what happens to us when we make our incongruities public? When we don’t simply bargain with ourselves internally, keeping our conflicting priorities secret? When we reveal our inconsistencies publicly, declaring and owning our messy edges as we seek to live what we espouse?
When we do this, our internal bargaining and raw contradictions exist in a bigger field. Seeing them as a microcosm of the larger world is a move towards integration, and invites a different kind of awareness within ourselves.
Here’s what I’m noticing. It’s much easier to feel virtuous for having solar panels on the roof than to declare, in the same post, that I’m flying to Alaska for a sea-kayaking trip this summer. I want to separate these: write about the solar panels on the Lodge website, and write about Alaska in a blog post. Putting them out to the world together feels a bit raw, as I acknowledge publicly that my actions are in a sense incongruent with what I espouse.
Facing these incongruities, allowing ourselves to be present with them, and becoming increasingly congruent is central to our integration process. We experience ourselves as an expression of the larger system of which we are a part. Not separate. Not righteous.
The world is living in us and through us, and this awareness begins to shape us in new ways.